Councilwoman: It’s time for homeless urban campground in Louisville

Louisville councilwoman proposes designated homeless campground in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville Metro councilwoman is calling for action as the city’s largest homeless camp is the latest to be told to move out.

“I think the city should step-up and provide some leadership and visioning,” Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith said.

The Democrat, who represents District 4, made the comment after around 30 homeless, who’ve been living at the CSX Railroad Property at Baxter and Liberty for some time, were given notice to leave by the end of the month.

While Sexton-Smith says the company has the right to make the request, the latest push of homeless to another property in the city only amplifies the problem of finding a place for them to go.

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Other cities have successful urban campgrounds. When the idea becomes controversial, it’s usually because of the location chosen.

In Louisville, with more people choosing to live outside, there’s a push to make it happen.

“There’s always going to be an element of the homeless population who will not go into shelters,” Wayside Christian Mission’s Nina Moseley said.

It was never more apparent in Louisville than on one of the coldest nights of the year. On January 30, during the polar vortex, Coalition for the Homeless volunteers counted the homeless population who could have gone inside a shelter, but chose to stay on the street.

“That happened to be the extremely cold, 2 degree weather here in the city,” Natalie Harris, the Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, explained.

The group counted 118 people on the streets that night.

“We’re going to have to adapt, improvise and overcome,” Sexton-Smith said.

She says an urban campground with bathroom facilities and some security is a way to do that. The 30 people living at the CSX property told WAVE 3 News they felt camaraderie and safety there.

The idea is to find some land or underused parks where the homeless are, in areas where they can still get some services and access to food, where they won’t keep getting moved somewhere else. Sexton-Smith says multiple small areas would be best.

“If you had fewer people in a camp area or in a shelter I think it’s more comfortable for the folks that are there," Sexton-Smith said. "And it’s more manageable for the folks providing the services.”

Sexton-Smith has been in talks with community and church organizations about urban campgrounds.

“They want to be outside, they want to be independent, they don’t want to follow rules," Moseley said. "They want to do their own things and there needs to be a place for them where they’re not moved around.”

Inside or out, homeless advocates agree on one thing.

“The bigger issue is that we just don’t have enough shelter and we don’t have enough shelter that will address what people are looking for," Harris said.

Sexton-Smith doesn’t have a proposal ready to present to the Metro Council yet. Some council members said if an urban campground happens, it would likely have to be run by a non-profit organization.

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